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Life/Death, Christmas and Ice Storms

Fragile.  It's the name I gave to the series of paintings currently on exhibit at theBurlington Art Centre in Burlington, Ontario.  I was responding to the illness of a friend.  Little did I know then that I would have my own brush with fragility not once but twice during the month of December.
Early in the month I was driving on a two-lane tree-lined road about 5km from home.It was 5:45pm.The roads were dry but it was dark.
I heard the noise first. Something big hit the left side of my car.  In the next instant, the body of a deer completely covered my windshield. The glass shattered with the force of it.  I thought it was going to come in on top of me.  But it flew off as quickly as it had landed. I drove on, stunned and covered in glass, trying to see out of the smashed windshield, the wind whistling through the gaping holes.  I decided not to stop. I was close to home and the shoulder of the highway is too small there, the embankment too steep.  
I drove into my garage and looked…

Writing About Your Art

My exhibition, In Search of Balance at the Burlington Art Centre in Burlington, Ontario, opened on Sunday, November 24th.

In preparation, I needed to have some discussions about my work with the curator, Denis Longchamps, and to rewrite my artist's statement.  An exhibition in a public gallery is such a gift. Not only is it hung so beautifully, but the conversations with the curator and the preparation time, allow an opening into deeper consideration of the work and the long journey that led here.  I've taken the time in preparation, to think about where my work has come from, what truly is important to me, and how I am expressing that.

It's such a difficult task for artists to write about our work in a way that uses language that everyone can understand because it involves trying to clearly understand ourselves and what our art is teaching us.  I have been reading an amazing book called Presence by Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers.
Written to teach about creative …

Painting Intuitively

I'm preparing for an exhibition in November, at the Burlington Art Centre in Burlington, ON, a beautiful public gallery located on the western end of Lake Ontario.

As is so often the case with art, if you can allow the process to unfold and trust that it will, amazing things can happen.  I believe that art is it's own spiritual journey.

The paintings in this series have led me on such a journey.

Last spring, Denis Longchamps, the Director of Programs, asked to come to my studio to see how the work was progressing. I had an idea for the show and had begun work on it. I had been working on a series of paintings I called Lines of Desire.  This series was an inner journey, where I was exploring my feelings related to the sudden life-threatening illness of a close friend. Denis liked the direction I was going and suggested we meet sometime in September to select work for the show.  My intention was to paint 7 large canvasses, each 5' x 6'.

Shortly after the studio visit, I …

Art Mentoring/Art Coaching Program

Over the past couple of years in my workshops, students have asked about getting one-on-one feedback or doing private critiques with me.  But one artist in a workshop this past summer, Jill Segal, suggested that I do an art mentoring program.  Thanks to her encouragement, I'm just launching it.

The Art Mentoring Program is intended as a distance mentoring program, to provide one-on-one guidance to artists no matter where they live.  The goal is to give artists feedback on their artwork and help them develop a cohesive body of work. There are few opportunities for artists to receive clear feedback and guidance about their work.  Our artists friends are generally reluctant to offer anything other than encouragement, even though they may think differently about certain of our paintings.  Encouragement is definitely helpful.  We all need that. But where do we get clear feedback?  Hard to find.  In workshops, we can get feedback for the work that is produced in the workshop.  But how d…

Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

In the film, "With My Back to the World",  the artist Agnes Martin talks about how the ideas for her paintings come to her in a flash of inspiration.  In fact, she painted directly from those visions, carefully working out the mathematical division of space.  When she finished a painting, she would simply wait until the next 'inspiration' came to her and didn't paint until it did. Once she had to wait 7 months, she said. My own ideas seem to come to me in  various ways.  Sometimes, like Agnes, I get a picture in my head of a painting.  I never can paint the exact image because I see it only vaguely. It's rather like an idea for a painting or an idea for a series of paintings. 
I find that ideas keep coming the more I work.  So many artists and musicians have said that.  Twyla Tharp said that in her book, "The Creative Habit", as did the composer, John Adams in "Hallelujah Junction".  Just begin.  Just get into the studio and begin. Start da…

Brice Marden: cold wax medium and calligraphy

After teaching my workshop at MISSA on Vancouver Island in July, I visited my artist friend, Barbra Edwards on Pender Island.  She was reading a book about the American abstract artist, Brice Marden, written by Eileen Costello.  I picked up a copy of the book when I came home.

I love connections and interconnections between people and ideas and events. In my last post (click here),  I wrote about my brush explorations workshop, where I painted with red cedar brushes and ink, creating calligraphic forms.  In reading Eileen Costello's book on Brice Marden, I was excited to learn how Chinese calligraphy had such an enormous influence on his work.

Another connection I had to Marden's work was that he was a pioneer in the use of cold wax medium and oil paint.  He was working with it for years before Gamblin started manufacturing it.  From 1965-1981 he used cold wax medium in his minimalist paintings to give an impasto quality to the paint and to make a more matte surface.

 I did …

The Tao of Painting

Two days before I taught my Abstract Painting workshop at MISSA on Vancouver Island, I took a 2-day class called Brush Explorations.  The workshop was taught by Lorne Loomer, a long-time teacher of brush painting who was deeply influenced by the West Coast artist/mystic, Jack Wise.

It was so enjoyable being a student for a change and experimenting with painting/calligraphy.  Our first task was to make our own brush.  Lorne provided us with red cedar bark that had washed up on a Vancouver Island beach.  We were to take the bark outside with us as we searched for a stone that spoke to us.  With that stone, we were to beat the red cedar bark into a brush, loosening all the fibres until we had a very spindly, feathery-looking object that we were to use as a brush.  My bark split into several pieces so I ended up with four brushes of various sizes.



Back inside, we dipped our newly made brushes into Chinese ink and then practised making marks on paper. As I stood, bent over my worktable and…

Teaching Workshops: Simplifying, Focusing and Setting Limits

July was a busy month of teaching Abstract Painting with cold wax and oil workshops:  a 5-day workshop at Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts on Vancouver Island, a 3-day workshop in Vancouver and then another 5-day workshop at the Haliburton School of the Arts in Ontario.

While I teach the technique of working with cold wax with oil,  my workshops are about painting.

I try to make the structure of my workshops very simple and clear.  It's a step-by-step process, each day building toward the next day.  Five-day workshops add a slowness to the pace that is difficult to create in a 3-day workshop.  It takes a couple of days for students to settle into the process-learning a new technique and then letting go of expectations that a painting should be produced in the first two days.  I think that one of the most important messages I was trying to get across was that of simplifying, focusing and setting limits.

Limit your choices, limit your colours, limit your shapes and…

Threads and Journeys

There are always threads aren't there, that connect one thing and another in our lives.  I wrote last week about the threads that connected many events in my life that week.  This week I found some new connections.
In preparing a slide presentation for Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts near Victoria, BC, where I'll be teaching next week, I've been looking at images of the paintings I did at my artist residency at Cill Rialaig in Ireland last fall.  I haven't looked at the work for a while and in fact tended to dismiss it as only experimental work.  I've put it on a shelf in my studio and haven't looked at it since I came home last December.  My artist talk is about Journeys: a short version of how I came to be doing the work I'm doing now-where it came from, what influenced it, and what I learn from it.
Sometimes we don't know the strength of a painting until we put it away for a while.  I was using acrylics in this Cill Rialaig piece, …

Intuition in Art

Everything we do and hear and see integrates itself into a work of art if we can find the connecting threads. And that artwork in turn can inform us about ourselves.  I went to hear a talk a couple of weeks ago by John Philip Newell, author of the book, New Harmony, the Spirit, the Earth and the Human Soul. He was the Warden of Iona Abbey in Scotland for many years.  He spoke about Celtic Christianity which holds the belief in the interconnectedness of all things and the pivotal importance of the feminine.  That sacred feminine he says, is essential in the healing of  our world today.

This past week, a friend invited me to consider the story of Inanna-a strong, sensual and powerful Goddess who was worshipped in ancient Sumeria-and the journeys she took to recover  sacred powers to give to civilization. This led me to pull out  my books on mythology, where stories of the Goddess  describe how the feminine-that intuitive, nurturing aspect of both men and women-was lost when patriarchy ca…

Lines of Desire-Paths We Follow

I am interested in paths.  Trails that emerge from human or animal footfall are called Lines of Desire.  It is the name that landscape architects give to those spontaneous narrow paths-the shortcuts- that people make across fields, or woodlands that do not follow the paved walkways.  Sometimes called social pathways, they have been created over time by people repeatedly walking the same track. I'm calling my new body of work, Lines of Desire to indicate the path that I am travelling throughout this series and the route I have travelled to get to this work. It is the same title I gave to an earlier body of work.  I wanted to revisit the idea.  My work has always been influenced by the idea of place-whether it be the sacred places/pilgrimage sites that have drawn me to various countries, the prairies where I grew up, the land I live on now, or the inner place of spirit.  The search for place has been an outer journey as well as an internal one. The life-threatening illness of my dear…

Vulnerability in Life and Art

I am reading the wonderful book, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.  She writes of vulnerability. She describes it as the experience of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure that we face every day. Vulnerability isn't weakness, she says, but "it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage." 

I think of the work I am currently doing and how different it is from the work of the past year.  This past year, I worked on a series I called Silence. There is an urgent importance I feel, in finding quiet space in our lives and in our work.  It's vital as well to create quiet spaces in our paintings, where we allow breath to enter.  This felt like a series I could work on for years.

In April, after not painting for a month because of the demands of exhibitions and workshops, I began to work in the studio by playing on small paper panels. I painted quickly and freely, using quirky mark-making and line and bright combinations of colours.  The excitement for this work has con…

Getting Back to Painting

I have been away from painting for most of the past month.  I taught three cold wax and oil workshops and had two exhibitions, one in Edmonton at Bugera Matheson Gallery and another in Guelph that runs until the end of the month at Renann Isaacs Contemporary Art.  I guess that's why I haven't had much time in my studio.
Sometimes I need to ease my way back into my studio work by playing.  I wrote about Maintaining the Spirit of Play in a post almost exactly two years ago.  I guess the same issues  continue to circle around and around.
A major component of play is  surrender.   I call it the Art of Surrender because it's difficult to explain and often difficult to accomplish.  You know when you've achieved it because you can feel it.  It's a huge relief.  Surrender literally means to stop fighting.  To stop fighting with yourself and the natural flow of life.  It's not about inaction, it's about working with that energy of surrender to take action.  When we ar…

Cold Wax Workshop

I taught a  workshop this past weekend in the stunningly beautiful arts centre called Visual Arts Mississauga. It's a very contemporary building set on the forested grounds of Riverwood, a 150 acre park in the centre of Mississauga.
Our classroom studio had floor to ceiling windows  looking onto a long expanse of snowy  forest.  Ours was a small class of only 5 students which allowed a lot of time for individual attention.  I continue to be amazed at how each person's work is so different from the next.  Always our goal in art is to find our own voice.  I like to remind artists that it's already there, you can see that when you look around the room, even on the first day of a workshop, when people are just beginning to learn about cold wax and oil.  As we continue to grow and work and develop more technical and compositional skills our voices grow stronger and clearer. 
There were many breakthroughs in this workshop as artists made discoveries about their art and themselv…

The Fear of Getting Feedback

A few weeks ago,  Rebecca Crowell and I wrote a co-blog post about Visual Language and the Art of Critique.  Later on, I  posted a followup conversation called Writing, Creativity and Critique: A Conversation, with two writer friends of mine:  Kim Echlin and Sandra Campbell, who meet regularly to give feedback and support to each other in their work.  They commented on how crucial this sort of feedback is to them. I received a number of emails in response to both blog posts.  One thing that came up in various ways was a general sense of fear at going through this process.  Perhaps the fear is justified because of harsh feedback from an instructor in the past.  But people also wondered if their work would be honoured for what they were trying to say and if suggestions for change would affect them negatively.  Many feared that putting words to this process would take away from the work.
I believe that if feedback can be given in a sensitive, playful way, and the artist can learn to loose…